Native people of the Pacific Northwest sometimes paired salmonberries with fish during feasts. That the fruit is even named “salmonberry” seems obvious when considering its homonym. Salmon berries, or salmon eggs, are not only similar in size, but in color and texture too.
This dish is my way of saying hello to the summer and good-bye to the spring. The last texture in this dish is the salmon egg, which reminds me of the birth of the berry this year. It lingers momentarily as the cool and tangy gazpacho provides one last taste of the Pacific Northwest’s first fruiting berry.
This salad was inspired by Native American tradition and Japanese fried food.
For those who find themselves with but a handful of salmonberries, this recipe is a great way to extract and extend their wonderful flavor. This is an effective way to make use of those salmonberries that have begun to bruise and turn to mush in the refrigerator. Use this vinaigrette as a base. The addition of garlic and mint, for example, may be most welcome, while others may prefer a pinch of chile flakes and cumin. For an example, see our pairing with cured salmon and fennel.
For those unfamiliar with salmonberries, or those who have had unexciting or unpalatable experiences with them, this recipe is for you. The natural tartness of the berries is sweetened by the sugar, heightening the pleasant qualities of their overall flavor. For sweeter berries, add more sugar. Pair with ice cream, cheese, pastries and baked goods like scones or soft breads. Or eat them as I prefer: by themselves with your sticky fingers.
One benefit the salmonberry has over more popular and cultivated berries is its ability to be stuffed. Because of its dry exterior and the strong flesh around the seeds, these berries can handle a little poking around. The honey and the elderflower introduce the tongue to a subtle but complex sweetness. The slight sourness of the salmonberry is barely tasted as the sweet cognac cream returns with the layers of sugars initially desired.
View our salmonberry recipes
The Inconvenient, Illusory Salmonberry
Most of us in the Pacific Northwest don’t know what salmonberries are. Sadly, many of those who do know them either pass them off as inedible or don’t consider their flavor interesting enough to pick them. One will never see them in the markets. Consumer apathy toward them, coupled with their high perishability and low shelf life, make them unable to ever be packed and sold. The only way one will ever eat the salmonberry is through foraging and sharing.
Yes, salmonberries are an illusion. Their meaty size, comparable to the Himalayan blackberry, tricks us into believing that they will burst with juicy nectar. Instead, they possess a little, tender white pit in their center. When picked, often the pit falls out, leaving one with a hollow and sometimes flat berry. Popping it into the mouth produces different reactions. The flavor of the salmonberry, like its color, is varied. This is a result of the comprehensive cloning of which salmonberries are capable. When foraging for them, it is important to pick from many different bushes, as the clones may create a sweeter berry than the parent. Unfortunately, an inconsistent flavor is yet another point against the marketing possibilities of salmonberries.
Salmonberries are as varied in color as they are in taste. Sometimes they are sweet, sometimes they are sour, sometimes they are insipid and sometimes they are an indescribable mix of flavors. Because this is my first harvest of the season, I thought it best to keep them the centerpiece. They are the first spring berry to ripen in the Pacific Northwest, and their presence is a reminder of the long, warm days to come.
Keep this plate small. Salmonberries aren’t known for their abundance. You might be able to put this plate together from only one bush, if you’re lucky, and if the bush is large. The simple syrup recipe makes way more than you need, but you can store it in your fridge for a long, long time.